Reading Festival 2004 Review
28th & 29th August
The campsite this year may be more akin to a Second World War trench, and yes, the booze is overpriced and any drugs you purchase are likely to consist mostly of crushed paracetamol as opposed to the Columbian cocaine you were promised, but still tens of thousands of people choose to spend the Bank Holiday weekend in a damp, muddy industrial estate in glamorous Reading. The crowd may have had to endure downpours, wannabe gangsters, pantomime rockers and The Rasmus, but Reading still rocked.
Our day kicks off in the backstage hospitality area sipping pre-poured pints of Carling whilst to our left a topless Japanese TV presenter is filmed for The Naked News. We decide we better go and catch a bit of Bloc Party in the tent. Possibly the most exciting band to come out of the recent London DIY explosion (ahem, take note Thee Unstrung, The Others), their unique mix of the punk-funk dynamic, Ian Curtis vocals and indie kid geekiness makes for compelling listening. We return to our backstage base to the sound of the 18.104.22.168's irritating adopted festival anthem Woo-hoo, where we find that surprise, surprise ligger extraordinaire Edith Bowman's turned up.
Razorlight are the first major crowd-pullers of the day, frontman Johnny Borrell & co sending their followers into raptures with their opening slice of jitter-punk, Rip It Up. The motormouth singer's claim that he's a better songwriter than Dylan is hard for him to live down, but he makes a start with today's impressive set. Don't Go Back To Dalston keeps up the frenetic pace, before Golden Touch becomes one of the festival's anthems alongside Take Me Out, 7 Nation Army and Dry Your Eyes.
For a band credited as being the creators of punk, the recently reformed New York Dolls at first seem more intent on churning out the sort of dadrock that they formed to rebel against. Giving them some slack though, as they do seem to be losing members left, right and centre, classics like Trash and Personality Crisis help them to redeem themselves, plus they have Mozza's seal of approval, - don't think it's a coincidence they're playing on the same day as him.
Man, I gotta stop seeing the Ordinary Boys. Four times in less than a year is rather sad, but this band warrants your attention. People aren't calling them the 21st Century Jam for no reason. From the initial Blitzkrieg assault of Over The Counter Culture to the more tender, almost feelgood vibes of Seaside the entire tent breaks out into euphoric bouts of pogoing frenzies. Whilst other bands in a similar position may decide to rest on their laurels for the time being, the Ordinary Boys are officially the hardest-working band in the music industry, setting out on tour after tour in order to spread their musical gospel. And at a time where most bands' songwriting topics concern mind-numbingly boring irrelevancies (see Jet, Razorlight) the Ordinary Boys' social commentary is welcomingly refreshing.
Having played a gig the previous night at the town's Fez club, rumours were rife that this was to be the long-awaited Libertines reunion gig. I mean, all the signs were there: Pete said the night before that he'd be appearing "in disguise", Pete' s amp & guitar were prepared onstage and there were reports that he had withdrawn 500 quid from his bank account in Whitechapel in preparation for the show. However, as the Libs stride out onstage complete with replacement guitarist Anthony Rossamondo (possibly the most hated rhythm guitarist in rock?!) it's clear that that much-touted reunions isn't gonna happen. From the tense opener Up The Bracket it's clear the band aren't comfortable onstage. Calls of 'Where's Pete?" from the countless bandwagon-jumpers in the crowd only exasperates things. Indeed it does seem sad that the Libertines are now better known for Pete Doherty's drug addictions/in-band fighting rather than the shambolic punk energy, quaint London charm and beguiling songs that made us fall in love with them in the first place.
The lack of Pete's charismatic stage presence is sorely missed, and with his absence goes the band's unpredictable, anything-could-happen persona. In fact at times it's more entertaining watching the Queens of Noize's drunken side-of-stage antics than the Libertines who seem to have had their life and soul sucked from them. There's nothing wrong with the songs, in fact for the Libertines they're incredibly tight, it's just that crucial spark that originally spawned them seems to have been extinguished, - let's hope only temporarily. With the band limping along like an injured animal, a shadow of their former selves, would the kindest thing be to end its misery?
Next up is Morrissey, and how does the Mozfather choose to follow up the latest episode of the Libs' soap opera / horror show? Only by beginning with How Soon Is Now? Naturally the Smiths classic sends devotees into hysteria, and to common knowledge it's the first time that it's been played since the band's demise. Mozza's on top form tonight, really bringing tracks off his new album You Are The Quarry such as First Of The Gang To Die and I Like You to life and also churning out past hits such as November Spawned A Monster and Everyday Is Like Sunday. For a man who's renowned for his dislike of other people's company, Moz is positively affable tonight, although he does launch verbal attacks upon Radio 1 for not playlisting his singles and Caversham where he was fined for speeding recently. The highlight of the set is arguably There Is A Light That Never Goes Out ("not for you Caversham"); death by collision with a double decker bus has never seemed so glorious. The question is though, with the festival headlined this year by a pantomime cock-rock troupe, an obscure brother/sister, husband/wife blues duo and a puerile pop-punk outfit, surely good ol' Mozza deserves a headline slot? Anyway, as we slink off to re-hydrate ourselves and watch the White Stripes from the safety of the backstage plasma screen, it's clear Moz has stolen the show.
Feeling a little worse for wear, we arrive onsite on Sunday, (traditionally 'Metal Day) just in time to catch The Streets. Mike Skinner's geezer garage certainly charms its way into Reading's hearts, although soon we lose interest and wander off to the allure of the Carling Tent where Wakefield trio the Cribs are playing. Despite having witnessed them three days prior to this at the Fez-tival, the Cribs' melodic, lo-fi garage-pop never loses its appeal. The irresistible pop hooks of The Lights Went Out and Things You Should Be Knowing contrasting greatly with the mental scuzz breakdown Third Outing.
We catch a snippet of nu-metal boyband Lostprophets' bland, uninspiring set, and before long we decide to take cover over in the Radio 1 tent. The 22-20s are on, trawling through their blues-punk riot, past singles such as Shoot Your Gun and Such A Fool going down a storm.
After the news comes in that dEUS have pulled out due to illness, we trudge over to see Placebo. Their faux-goth image may have worked ten years ago, but do they really think they can still pull it off as they enter their thirties? Brian Molko, now visibly balding never really strikes up a rapport with the crowd, and their live show just seems to be stolid and uninspiring. Even new versions of the hits Pure Morning and Taste In Men sound disappointingly tired.
After 50 Cent is bottled off the stage (surely a gangsta rapper who's been shot numerous times can survive a torrent of plastic bottles?), it's down to Green Day to close the festival. Launching into new single American Idiot it's pretty much a greatest hits set from the US punks, - Long View, Geek Stink Breath, Basket Case, Brain Stew, - the list goes on. Throw in a few novelty covers - We Are The Champions, as well as classics by Operation Ivy, The Clash and the Buzzcocks and they're pretty much the ultimate crowd-pleasing festival headliner. The only thing is, that with both The Rasmus and 50 being bottled off the stage, Green Day have over two hours' stage time, which is rather a long time for a pop-punk band with little variation to their three-chord formula.
Legging it over to the Radio 1 tent, we manage to catch the last half of Supergrass' finale. Lenny and Strange Ones sound as might as ever, whilst Kiss of Life perhaps hints at where the band's musical direction will go next. Unfortunately we do get the acoustic version of Caught By The Fuzz (why?!?) as played on their recent Greatest Hits tour, but by raising the tempo afterwards with the sing-along anthems Moving and Pumping On Your Stereo, they more than redeem themselves.